StretchSense has announced its latest sensor designed specifically for tight-fitting undergarments like compression clothing or underwear. Sensors in garments worn very close to the body promise to give repeatable and more precise data about the user’s breathing; steps walked or distance run; posture; training technique; muscle tension; and health.
Sensors placed in underwear have an additional benefit: they may improve the abandonment rate of the technology. The company cites a consumer survey by Gartner that found high abandonment rates of wearables. In the survey, 29 percent of users abandoned their smart watches and 30 percent abandoned their fitness trackers.
For wearable technology to remain attractive to mainstream consumers, StretchSense says the devices need to provide information that a smartphone can’t, such as body motion tracking for rehabilitation, sports coaching, or immersive, virtual reality gaming. And, the company says, the technology needs to be unobtrusive to the point of being invisible to the wearer.
When sensors are so seamlessly integrated that the wearer can’t tell the difference from regular underwear, underwearables become a practical alternative in wearable technology. StretchSense believes wearable tech will then disappear into the background and be a “sixth sense,” collecting data throughout the user’s day.
The company cites the example of a smart thermal shirt (a base layer) that has stretch sensors to monitor a woman’s posture and provide corrective feedback during her yoga class, or as she sits at her desk at the office—and no one will know she’s wearing technology.
Advances in the garment industry have allowed the development of underwearables. By producing textile sensors that are flexible, lightweight and can be sewn in or heat-pressed in the manufacturing stage, a smart compression shirt can be produced in one process. Flexible, printed circuit boards can make stretch sensors into smart transducers and integrate micro-controllers into the sensors, eliminating bulk.
The ubiquitous nature of underwear makes good business sense to StretchSense. After all, “Everyone from the young to the old wears underwear,” the company says.
The company incorporated in 2012 as a spinout from the Biomimetics Lab of the Auckland Bioengineering Institute, University of Auckland and is a global supplier of soft, stretchy sensors and generators.